Ocado launches Alexa app for grocery shopping by voice

Even as Amazon steps up a groceries war in the US following its $13.7BN acquisition of Whole Foods — cutting prices at the chain this weekend to amp up the pressure on rival Walmart — other supermarket players are figuring out their own strategic responses to Jeff Bezos’ big food fight.

UK online supermarket brand Ocado has today outed an app for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, enabling users to add groceries to their shopping list by voice — at least if they also own one of Amazon’s AI-powered Echo smart speakers.

Ocado says it’s the first UK supermarket to launch an app for Alexa.

The app lets users add a product to an existing Ocado order or basket via voice command — though the phrasing for this is pretty clunky, with users needing to speak two brand names (Alexa and Ocado) to amend their orders by voice. (It gives the following sample command: “Alexa, ask Ocado to add carrots to my order” — which is a bit of a mouthful for something that’s billed as increasing convenience for shoppers.)

New orders also cannot currently be created via the Alexa app — Ocado says it’s intended for updating existing orders only. Its envisaged use-case is someone realizing they’ve run out of a certain product when they’re in the middle of cooking, and being able to add it to their list without having to break off from whatever they’re chopping.

Other features in the app include being able to find out which products are in season, and get ideas for possible recipes; check an existing order or basket to see if a product has been added already; keep track of an order (by asking: “Where’s my order?”); and confirm the time until which an existing order can be amended.

Ocado says it’s feeding existing customer product preferences into the new app to ensure appropriate product suggestions — based on things like previously bought items.

The voice shopping app gives users the “convenience and flexibility to shop however they prefer”, it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Lawrence Hene, Ocado’s marketing and commercial director, said: “Consumer demand for increasingly convenient ways to shop is growing rapidly and we’re excited to be the first supermarket in the UK to offer this technology, making customers’ lives ever easier. Alexa will add any item to your Ocado basket simply by asking her to do so. It’s as easy as that.”

Ocado claims to deliver groceries to more than 70 per cent of the UK population, with an inventory of more than 50,000 products. Its UK food delivery business is powered by three distribution centers across the country.

Following Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, the ecommerce giant does now have a physical grocery store presence in the UK — though the brand has just a handful of stores there (nine), with most located in London.

But since 2015, Amazon has also operated a grocery deliveries business in the UK — with its AmazonFresh service launching London last year. So the strategic threat to Ocado from Amazon’s food-based ambitions is clear, even as it launches its own Alexa app in a bid to ensure its grocery brand remains front of mind for Amazon users.